76 Years Service to the Lane Company and its Predecessors

Seventy-six years ago, John Lane went into business with two. brothers, Henry and Wesley.

Fifty-two years ago, John Lane probably thought the family's business history was coming to an end.

Coming to an end with his own son Edward. And - not so incidentally - coming to an end thanks to his son Edward.

"My father paid $500 for the plant of a bankrupt box factory in Altavista, Va.," Edward Lane relates today, "and sent me there with instructions to make cedar chests. The first thing I did was to literally guess what equipment I might need. The second thing I did was to find a supplier who would give me the longest credit terms possible. The third thing I did was to buy $50,000 worth of machinery from him. My father came around at the end of the first month to see how I was doing. I told him I'd bought the machinery . . . and he really did hit the ceiling. 'You're trying to break me!' he roared.

"Looking back, I suppose he had good reason to be upset. I had no manufacturing experience . . . and I'd never even heard of a cedar chest."

In all justice to the young Edward Lane - he was 21 years old at the time - it must be said that a lot of people had never heard of cedar chests in the year 1912. Since then, though, the cedar chest has become standard household furniture. And those in many homes came from Lane's Southern served Altavista plant, whose 52nd year brings to more than three quarters of a century a "partnership" between the Lane family and the Southern Railway System.

It was in 1888 that Henry, Wesley and John Lane founded a heavy construction firm headquartered in Virginia called Lane Brothers Company, General Contractors. A newly-published history of the Lane company quotes the American Historical Society's VIRGINIA BIOGRAPHY as noting that "the first contract of railroad building" awarded the Lane brothers "was on the South Atlantic and Ohio, now the Southern Railway, between Bristol and Big Stone Gap." VIRGINIA BIOGRAPHY goes on to say that in August of 1890, Southern predecessor companies awarded the Lane brothers a contract "for building the New Yard, two miles north of Salisbury, N. C.," which later became known as Spencer Yard.

By 1912, the year Edward began making cedar chests, the Lanes had founded the town of Altavista on 2,000 acres of wheat land crossed by the north - south line of the Lynchburg & Danville Railroad, a Southern predecessor which had opened in 1874 as a connection between two other Southern predecessors - it linked the south terminus of the Orange, Alexandria & Manassas Railroad at Lynchburg with the Richmond & Danville on the north bank of the Dan River.

It was to these nearby Southern tracks that Edward Lane looked for help in getting his chests to market when he began making them in 1912.

Omer L. Jeter, director of purchasing and traffic for the Lane Company today, explains that the chests were taken by wagon to the Southern freight depot, where they were loaded into boxcars. Jeter adds: "The Southern Railway has been the backbone of transportation for the Lane Company since then, since the very beginning."

In "the very beginning," the Lane Company was known as the Standard Red Cedar Chest Company. Today, Edward Lane says frankly that the Lane family originally didn't want its good name involved in an enterprise that was so promising of failure.

After all . . . here was a young fellow who had "never even heard of a cedar chest," and he was starting out owing $50,000 for machinery. It would take a lot of chests to retire that debt, and on the best days the Standard Red Cedar Chest shop was able to turn out only 10 pieces. But they were good chests.

They started Edward Lane's company on the way to a position of prominence not only in the manufacture of cedar chests, but other furniture items as well.

Lane is now one of the nation's largest dollar producers of occasional and living room tables; it makes bedroom and living room furniture; and, the company is still the nation's leading maker of cedar chests.

More than 2,100 people today make their living from the work done at three modern Lane facilities.

Lane's main operations and headquarters are located at Altavista. Southern brings the great percentage of all rail-borne raw materials to this plant and carries out better than half of all rail borne finished products.

At Rocky Mount, Va., some 45 miles from Altavista, Lane operates a second plant. And a third is at Smyrna, Tenn., where a sawmill and panel plant produces 90 per cent of Lane's cedar panels from logs obtained within a 50-mile radius. Southern does not serve Smyrna but 100 per cent of the traffic from there arrives at Altavista over Southern after being received from other carriers at either Chattanooga. Tenn., or Atlanta, Ga.

Production of a cedar chest begins at Lane's Smyrna, Tenn., panel plant. Ninety percent of the company's cedar panels are produced from logs such as are shown here. These logs are all obtained within a 50-mile radius of this plant.

One would think that the man mainly responsible for this - today's Lane Company board chairman Edward H. Lane, Sr. - would be justified in sitting back and looking at his world with a very definite feel of success.

Ask him if he does feel this way, and he'll tell you: " A man never knows when he's a success. Any false step can throw you. And the bigger you are, the faster you slip back; and the further you slip. I suppose you're all right as long as you keep a team that will work in harmony. Cooperation and teamwork are behind every successful relationship or enterprise.

Destination for the panels is Altavista, Va., site of Lane's main operations and headquarters. The new $1 million table and chair plant noW being completed is just out of camera range to the left. Southern brings a high percentage of all rail-borne materials to this plant and carries out better than half of all of its rail-borne finished prodtlcts.

"As for our company - it's fortunate, very fortunate in having chosen to locate in towns where the business climate is favorable and the general atmosphere is one of friendly cooperation."

Good rail transportation figures into this formula of Lane success, too. At one time, Lane hauled part of its Smyrna traffic and lumber from the south in company owned trucks. But today, Jeter says, "Southern's special purpose equipment and the incentive rates that Southern has provided . . . well, they make for substantial savings to us - and I mean very substantial, the kind of savings we can't ignore . . . Southern is playing such a darn good hand these days that we've been forced out of this hauling . . . and Southern did it."

Edward Lane also feels he was fortunate in the beginning by being blessed with what he prefers to call "my ignorance."

It was this, he says, which let him conclude he would saw his own lumber, a move that caused traditionalists to go pale. Everyone knew furniture factories bought their lumber already prepared for manu- facture. Everyone knew that except Edward Lane.

That one decision by Lane to saw his own lumber enabled his infant cedar chest factory to operate at a level of production costs some 5 per cent below those of its competitors.

That 5 per cent edge was a major factor in those days. That was a time, Lane recalls, when "financing was in a nearly constant state of crisis, keeping us just about one jump ahead of the sheriff most of the time. I remember one fellow from a banking organization who told me once we were insolvent. My ignorance cropped up again, as I told him, because I didn't know what that really meant. He said that since I didn't, I'd be better off just staying ignorant."

All in all, Edward Lane pauses now in a kind of wonderment over how the firm managed to survive the first 10 years. "The product itself was crude; production methods were elemental; a reliable sales organization was non-existent."

Edward Lane looks upon 1922 the end of that first decade of operation as "a turning point for us. During that year, we changed our name to the Lane Company, started advertising nationally, launched a program of experimental and development work, started to organize and train an exclusive national sales force and began to produce cedar chests with fine cabinet- wood exteriors such as mahogany and walnut."

By 1922, production had increased to between 200 and 300 chests a day. And Lane had perfected an aroma-tight chest with cedar panels inside and, "welded" to the outside, hardwoods and veneers chosen for beauty of grain and figure. The chest was still a utilitarian household item - it was so good that insurance could be gotten on its contents. But with the addition of hardwoods and veneers to the outside, the chest had also become a decorating item.

The second decade of operation could have been the last for the Lane Company. It was for a lot of businesses, thanks to the national depression. Lane's financial problems came a little earlier in the '20's than those of most companies, however, and bankers required some belt-tightening.

So Lane had its financial house in good order when the crash came in 1929.

"Being kicked in the pants by the New York banks," Edward Lane says today, "prompted us to undertake a financial housecleaning that got us safely through 1929 and the lean years of national depression."

By 1937, Lane had paid off its bonds, had redeemed all of its preferred stock and had been able to pay off its bank indebtedness at the end of each year. A new and more efficient sawmill had been built. The finishing section had been greatly expanded. A fire proof building housed new storage and shipping facilities. A plywood division had been added. A second - story annex had been added to the main plant.

Forklift operator Fred Cabler deftly lifts a stack of lumber from one of Southern's IOO-ton capacity chain tiedown bulkhead end lumber cars at the Altavista plant. Astride the load, Guy Burnette, lumber foreman, directs the unloading, while Jimmy Graham, Lane's basic material buyer, takes a close look at the giant car. Watching the smooth unloading, at the left, are 0. L. Jeter, director of purchasing and traffic, and S. K. Smith, director of basic material.

Expansion continued through the 1940's with construction of a quarter-million-dollar plant at Altavista just to turn out the several hundred thousand pieces of "trim" required for each week's production.

That's one indication of production volume; another is this: Even though the lumber storage yard at Altavista is about the size of five football fields in area, the three million board feet of lumber the company holds there is only enough for 10 weeks' use.

Hold it steady . . . right there," signals a workman as a crane operator unloads and stacks logs at the Lane Company's lumber storage yard in Altavista. About the size of five football fields in area, the spacious yard has a storage capacity of three million board feet of lumber.

The obvious implication of this is that production and supply methods must be strictly controlled - and they definitely are.

Systematized control of basic materials purchasing was set up in 1947. The department today, under the direction of S. K. Smith, is charged with overseeing the purchasing and proper utilization of all lumber, veneer, cedar logs and poplar veneer logs.

In the table sub-assembly area, stacks of upturned table legs stand ready for final assembly. The power conveyor at right carries nearly , completed units from operator to operator, where each man performs his special job on the line.

A trade magazine once explained in an article about Lane: "The purchasing of basic materials must be so closely and so quickly integrated with sales that the placing of an order for, say, a hundred chests or tables by a St. Louis or New York or Spokane retailer will immediately start a lumber crew in Mississippi or the Carolinas or even Brazil felling trees in approximate number to replace the basic stock for this particular order."

And S. K. Smith himself explains: "In a plant as large as the Lane Company, we run into real trouble when lumber isn't on hand as needed." So dependable, low-cost transportation such as that provided by the Southern Railway System is obviously a critical factor in Lane's operation.

Southern brings several cars a week to Lane, each car carrying about 30,000 board feet of lumber loaded in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana and, occasionally, other states.

In the finishing room of the Lane Company's Altavista, Va., plant, an industrial engineer collects operations data while a skilled workman rubs-down a Lane cedar chest.

Smith says "we've been very happy with Southern's performance" in the scheduled delivery of these cars.

Smith also says that whenever possible, Lane likes to receive its lumber on Southern's chain-tiedown cars. The Lane Company participated in the testing of these cars and the early promise of big, money saving loads that could be quickly and easily unloaded has been borne out. "We receive the cars in the morning," Smith says, "and soon they've been unloaded and are ready to go back to Southern. We save money when we save time. These cars let us do that."

And, says Jeter: "We expect to make even more effective use of Southern's specialized freight cars in 1964. The savings to us that we expect from more use of Southern in 1964 well, 1964 . . . this will really be a year!"

At this time, business prospects continue to seem quite favorable.

So, the Lane Company is now in the process of constructing a new $1 million plant at Altavista for the manufacture of tables and chairs. The building is being constructed in a way that will allow for the doubling . . . tripling . . . or quadrupling of space.

Obviously, the Lane Company looks forward with what Edward Lane, using classic restraint, calls "great confidence."

It is a confidence shared by the entire Lane man- agement. ..board chairman Edward H. Lane, Sr.; two of his sons, B. B. Lane, vice president and general manager, and Landon B. Lane, vice president and administrative assistant to the president; and the president of the company, H. 0. Powell, Lane's chief operating officer who first came with the company in 1927.

It is a confidence shared by B. I. Klein, a Lane Company vice president who says: "People want to spend their money in ways that show their good taste. So what better way to spend it than in decorating their homes?"

The end of the line for a finished ceader chest finds a Lane Company employee giving a final touch, with meticulous care to a beautiful and extremely functional piece of furniture.

And homes there will be aplenty in the future. Says Edward Lane: "Look at the 33 million consumers this country is expected to gain during this present decade."

The Lane Company is already gearing up for those 33 million consumers.

The company obviously expects, and justifiably so, to be around for a long time.

And the Southern Railway System, whose ties with Lane go back so many years, will continue to serve it better, and in more of the money-saving ways that can mean lower prices to the consumer in the market place, for just as long a time. .